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What Is Coronavirus?

January 23, 2020 Read Time - 3 minutes

About Author

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

What Is Coronavirus

China is racing to contain a new deadly strain of virus called the coronavirus. Here’s what we know so far:

  • More than 500 people have been infected. The majority of cases have been found in the city of Wuhan, China. However, cases have also been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States.
  • The first case in the United States was confirmed on Tuesday, January 21, in a man in his 30s. The man had recently returned home to Seattle from a trip to Wuhan, China. 
  • Chinese officials have confirmed that human-to-human transmission of the virus is possible. The virus was originally transmitted from animals to humans and many of the patients have been linked to Hua Nan Seafood Wholesale Market. Snakes in the market are suspected as the source of the outbreak however, the true source of the outbreak is not yet confirmed.
  • The coronavirus is not new. The term coronavirus actually refers to a large group of viruses which cause a range of illnesses. The current strain is a cousin of the SARS virus which led to a worldwide epidemic in 2002 and 2003 with infections in over thirty countries.

The Response So Far

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people has been quarantined. No one is permitted to leave, and the government has enacted a lockdown on transportation. All train stations, airports, city buses, subways, ferries, and shuttles have been closed down. To put this in perspective, Wuhan has a population nearly a third bigger than New York City. 

The World Health Organization held an Emergency Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, January 22. Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control in the United States has deployed workers to screen passengers arriving to the major ports of entry; New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta. 

In Hong Kong, hospitals have increased their alert level and are implementing temperature checkpoints for inbound travelers. Chinese scientists have also announced that they have determined the DNA sequence of the new coronavirus. Such sequencing will help expedite the process of developing treatments and potentially a vaccine for the virus. 

From the time of the first reports of the virus, it took only two weeks for scientists to isolate and publish a genetic sequence. This response time is much improved from the 2002 outbreak of SARS, which infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed 774. The fast turnaround highlights the progress made in biotechnology over the past few decades however, difficulties still remain.

Containing the virus has been made more difficult by holiday travel, as hundreds of millions move throughout China to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Such travel threatens to spread the virus even faster.

While scientists work on developing a vaccine, it is advisable to practice good hygiene, avoid close contact with individuals suffering from respiratory infections, and to receive screening when traveling to or from at-risk locations.

Do I Have Coronavirus? Take The Quiz Now

Take our quiz below to see if you may be at risk of coronavirus.

NOTE: This test is not an official diagnostic tool and should not be interpreted as such. Only a doctor can diagnose COVID-19 after official testing has been completed. See the CDC guidelines for at-risk populations, here.

I have had a fever in the past two weeks.

I have had a cough in the past two weeks.

I have experienced unexplained shortness of breath in the past two weeks.

I have traveled to or from a known location of an outbreak.

I have been in contact with someone traveling from a known location of an outbreak.

I have been in close contact with someone receiving treatment for coronavirus.

I work in a hospital or care center that has treated a case of coronavirus.

I am elderly or at risk of having a weakened immune system.

I experience chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, or cancer.

Sources What is the deadly coronavirus illness now blamed for 17 deaths in China? Accessed January 23, 2020 at

Fox. Coronavirus explained: What you need to know. Accessed January 23, 2020 at

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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